The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary "The Place Called Barren" ~ Susan McGurgan


The hill country of Judea

is the just about the last place

you would expect to find

a prophecy fulfilled

or a miracle revealed.

The region doesn't celebrate ancient libraries

or famous philosophical schools.

It never produced great wealth

or claimed powerful armies.

It is, in fact,

a rather forgotten place--

a land of high limestone plateaus

cut by deep, weathered gullies.

It is a mosaic of bare hilltops

rising above rugged valleys.

The land is rough,

secluded,

sometimes unforgiving—

a surprising place to find blessings.

Yet, as Joan Sauro says,

no matter where we walk,

we will find that God has been there before us.

God’s name is written everywhere,

on every layer.

Go to the place called “Barren.”

Stand in the place called “Empty”

and you will find God. *

Elizabeth knew all about

the place called “Barren”;

the location known as "Empty."


For most of her life,

her family and friends saw her as forsaken—

desperate--

a woman abandoned by God--

the object of shame

or the target of barely concealed scorn.


She was that most pitied of women--

Barren.

Empty.

Unfertile.

A field without a harvest.


But one day,

in that land of high plateaus

and quiet valleys,

the one who had been barren became fruitful

and her emptiness overflowed.

One day,

in the very last place you might expect to encounter God,

two pregnant women—

Mary, at the beginning of her life,

Elizabeth, moving towards its end,

met,

and greeted each other in wonder and delight.


In that extraordinary moment,

unprecedented in scripture,

two women proclaimed the goodness of God

while two surprising babies

danced to the heartbeat of their mothers’ joy.

Elizabeth, once empty,

now carried the herald of the Lord—

the last of the Old Testament prophets.

With the birth of her son, John,

the cycle of prophets which began with Elijah,

would become complete.


Elizabeth knew the history of her people.

She knew that the golden ark of her ancestors

was carried before the Israelites

as they wandered in the desert.

The ark contained the Law of Moses--

the very Word of God in stone.

It held the urn of manna and the rod of Aaron—

the bread from heaven

that sustained God's people in the wilderness

and a sign of priesthood.

Elizabeth realized that a new ark

now stood before her.

Not an ark of wood or gold,

but one knit into the very bones and blood of a girl

who carried the Bread of Life

and the true high priest within her.

When she embraced Mary

Elizabeth knew that everything had changed—

Everything her people longed for,

freedom,

forgiveness,

hope,

salvation,

was now alive among them.

And in that new life,

everything

became possible.


In a world where women could not legally testify,

Mary and Elizabeth became God’s witnesses,

testifying to the truth.

Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord said to her

will be accomplished!"

In a world where women had no voice,

Mary became God’s “Yes!”

Her “Yes” echoes throughout time and beyond time,

bearing God’s bread into a hungry world.


The voices of Mary and Elizabeth

continue to resound; their witness endures.

They stand beside us whenever the hungry are filled

and the lowly are lifted up;

whenever promises are kept

and mercy overflows.

They challenge us to be faithful.

To be bold.

To be brave.

To accept risk.

To rejoice

and dance

and believe in God’s mercy.


Their witness calls us

to be open to life

and to embrace a future

that the world might deny.


They remind us to trust in God,

even as the world proclaims,

“You are too old.”

“You are too young.”

“You are barren.”

“You are a scandal.”

“You are female.” “Your voice doesn't count."

In our world,

where the bodies of women and children

are too often abused and discarded,

Mary and Elizabeth remind us that our bodies--

all bodies,

are temples.

That we are wholly loved,

wholly blessed,

wholly redeemed.


The remind us that God’s Word

comes as pure gift.

It cannot be bought

or earned

or awarded as a prize.


It simply comes.


Unbidden.

Unexpected.

And as shocking as finding God,

being born as a peasant child.


Mary and Elizabeth testify

that no matter where we walk,

God has been there before us.

God’s name is written everywhere,

on every layer,

in every remote gully and eroded hillside.


They stood in the place called “Barren;”

in the land called, “Empty”

and there,

they encountered God.


They remind us that God’s glory still shines

on people and places

that the world might ignore

and that sometimes,

God surprises us.



© Dr. Susan Fleming McGurgan

*Joan Sauro, Whole Earth Meditation as quoted from a sermon by Leah Grace Goodwin, Dec 15, 2002.

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